Archive for March, 2011

Budget Survey?

March 26, 2011

This was forwarded to me by Connie Compton, KEA Vice President, who wanted members to be able to see what she did when she tried to fill out the KSD Budget Survey.  This was sent to the school board and Dr. Vargas.  I apologize that the chart didn’t transfer over as well as intended.  It came as an excel doc and was difficult to format.

I just attempted to complete the Budget Survey. I am disappointed and frustrated. I am unable to make the choices that I think best serve the needs of our students because the limited choices offered force me to cut certificated staff. This survey does not allow us to keep cuts away from our students and the classroom. Because the survey gives such limited options and does not present the full list of options developed by the school district or allow me to make my own suggestions and yet requires a specific point total, I am unable to use the online tool to give my input. Therefore, I am sending my input directly to you.

The students attending school in the Kent District School District today or entering kindergarten next fall only get once chance for their education. We need to provide a well-rounded education that meets the needs of all students. Cutting the Elementary PE and Music programs does not reach this end. As a 30-year veteran special education teacher, I know that school can be challenging and even frustrating for many students. PE and Music can be the positive in their school day. Other students find their passions starting in the elementary PE and Music programs, which leads to their connection to high school, their social group, and even their college path or their careers. Research clearly ties physical health and music to academic achievement. Likewise, research supports smaller class size at the elementary level. Teachers across our district will tell you that they are already stretched to their limits. Increasing class size and cutting elementary planning time will seriously impact the learning of our students.

Ideally, I believe that a supplemental levy should be put to the voters. This would increase funding by approximately $3.7 million, which would cut the need to reduce the budget by more than half. However, it is possible to reduce the budget without directly impacting classrooms or running a supplemental levy. Please refer to the attached spreadsheet (printed below) with my recommendations to reduce expenditures.

Thank you,
Connie Compton
Elementary Special Education Teacher,
KEA Vice-President,
Community Member & Voter, and Parent of 2 KSD Graduates

2011/2012 Budget Reductions for Consideration  
Central Office Budget Reductions as planned 2,762,032.00  
     
Energy Savings 592,568.00  
Mid-Day Kindergarten Transportation 127,400.00  
     
Reduce One Assistant Principal per High School               Rationale: Three Assistant Principals (or 2 and a Dean of Students) aligns with most high schools of similar size in our area. 542,388.00  
Middle School In-School Suspension 173,527.00  
Principal’s Travel Fund Carryover 248,951.00  
10 Furlough Days for Superintendent and Chiefs               Rationale: As KSD Certificated Staff are paid less than those in 22 surrounding districts, it is reasonable to reduce pay for administrators to a similar level. Furlough days can be taken in the summer without impact to the student school year. 76,020.00  
10 Furlough Days for District Management                        Rationale:  See above 323,560.00  
Return 11 TOSAs/Coaches/Facilitators to the classroom. Rationale: The professionals working in the trenches will agree that teachers in the classroom keeping class size low and programs intact will prove to be of the most value in student achievement. These staff can fill open positions in the schools. (Estimated savings based on the average cost per certificated staff of $80,963, although potential savings could be higher as most staff in these positions are typically higher paid staff). 890,593.00  
Cut “Travel” from the Budget                                                Rationale:  Priorities. Elementary PE and Music should be valued over administrator travel. 330,000.00  
Total Reduction 6,067,039.00  

Whiners

March 26, 2011

I attended the two Town Meetings recently held in Covington and Auburn, and the more I hear, the more I feel angry over the shortsightedness and skewed priorities that are affecting us now.  These town meetings were pretty predictable; lots of handwringing over what to cut next and the inevitable conclusion that no matter what else is cut, there won’t be enough money to save basic services, especially education and social services for the needy.  That is so predictable.  They have been cutting and cutting for at least a decade now, and I can’t believe that they still are able to find anything to cut.  Yet they do.  This tells me they have either been disingenuous or inefficient (probably both) in the cutting that has gone on before, and I really don’t expect them to be any different now.  With regard to education, they are all aware that the NEWS lawsuit reiterated and redefined education as being the “paramount duty” of the state, but are unable to do whatever it takes to make it so.  Nothing, that is, except apologize and say they just can’t find any more money.  The Constitution and the court didn’t say “paramount when you can afford it,” it said paramount.  To me, the problem is not of what to cut; I believe they’ve probably pretty much cut everything they are willing to cut; it is a problem of revenue.  Revenue is a funny word for politicians; something they may use, as long as it isn’t in the form of that awful word: “TAXES.”  I attended a town meeting with Margarita Prentice and other Renton politicians a couple of years ago and a questioner tried to get her to talk about taxes and she wouldn’t do it.  All the participants in these recent town meetings wouldn’t do it either.  I’m not sure which one said it (present were Sullivan, Hargrove and Fein), but he believed the voters had soundly rejected the income tax measure in the last election and that was good enough for him.  If memory serves, the measure did lose, but it was poorly funded, was outspent by a huge amount of out-of-state money, and was presented in an off-year election that had a poor turnout due to (mostly) young voter apathy and anger.  Not what I would call a mandate, but the fact that it was there at all should tell our reps that we need to talk revenue.  If saying the word “taxes” is committing political suicide (something I am not against) then find another word.  Fix the lottery like it was promised when it was first instituted and make the money go to education.  Take all the money that is currently paying off Safeco and divert it to education.  Take gas taxes; I don’t care.  Think outside the very small box that constitutes discussion over revenue and figure out what CAN be done.  I’m tired of whiners saying, “I can’t.”

Ramblings on Class Size

March 10, 2011

This was sent to me by a teacher who objected to Bill Gates’ opinions on class sizes in schools.  

 Bill Gates has recently been quoted as saying, “”U.S. schools have almost twice as many teachers per student as they did in 1960.” I have to wonder what Bill bases this on. I’m guessing it’s not the Kent School District. Our contract allows Kindergarten to third grade to reach 29 students and 4th to 6th grade to reach 32. My husband was recently working on some old school pictures. Here’s what we saw –

1960 – 1st grade – 31 students                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1961 – 2nd grade – 31 students                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1962 – 3rd grade – 28 students                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1963 – 4th grade – 28 students                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     1964 – 5th grade – 30 students                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1965 – 6th grade – 27 students

Interestingly, the kindergarten at my school has 27 students this year.

 So maybe Bill’s problem is that in 1975 a federal law was passed that provides for a free and appropriate public education for all students. Prior to this law many students now in special education programs could not attend public schools. Others dropped out after they had been held back repeatedly. In Kent, approximately 10% of the teachers are special education teachers.

 We also have ELL teachers in Kent and 15% of the students in Kent are in ELL programs. Many more have exited formal ELL programs, but are still building their skills in English.

 I often wonder what makes Bill Gates an “expert” on education. I wonder how he’d do teaching for a week in a public school classroom.

A History Lesson…

March 9, 2011

That previous post reminded me that as union members or just as citizens of this country, we need to remember what the struggle was all about in the first place.  As a student of history, I know that the history of our nation was shaped by the labor struggles that workers engaged in and that no discussion of the U.S. would be complete without including certain critical incidents which shaped public consciousness and put the labor movement into focus for us.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire was a tragedy that killed 146 people, mostly immigrant women in NY City on March 25, 1911 (the 100 year anniversary of this horrible event is coming in a few days).  Women working in the garment industry were unable to escape a fire that spread through the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the Asch Building because elevators stopped working and the fire exits had been locked by management to prevent thefts (the owner who had accomplished this deed was fined $20.00 for his transgression while receiving $60,000.00 insurance compensation for his “losses”).  There was a resultant outcry over the image of women leaping to their deaths from factory windows which enabled the garment industry workers to stand together and protect themselves by organizing and unionizing.  A union advocate at the time said, “I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.”

In the extractive industries of mining and logging there were many incidents that set up struggles between workers and owners.  In almost all cases, owners were supported by law enforcement, while workers had only the determination that they had suffered enough to want to stand up against the sure violence that was coming their way.  All over the country, labor uprisings gave voice to the people who did all the hard jobs and that voice was demanding rights.  Rights to decent wages, job safety, decent hours all were fought for and won.  Workers discovered that through their collective voice and their collective action that they could ask for and receive these conditions; they could have a say in their own employment.

For the past 50 years, there has been a backlash movement afoot; one that has been funded by corporate dollars and that has at its heart the elimination of the rights of workers that have been won over time.  We are now seeing the contemporary version of that movement.  With the vilification of public workers (BAD teachers, BAD firemen, BAD police, BAD state workers) and the controlled rhetoric (after the purchase of virtually ALL domestic media sources) that says anything public is bad, including public schools, and with the nonsense that is going on in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, New Jersey (et al), and yes, right here in our own state of Washington, we are seeing the next battle.  We had better be ready to defend our lives and our livelihoods.  Those of you who believe “it can’t happen here,” aren’t paying attention; it already IS happening here.  The question now is, what are you going to do about it?

Union Rights are Human Rights

March 8, 2011

 This was sent to me by a teacher/proud union member who was in Olympia last week at a rally specifically to support Wisconsin public union workers and to support unions and the right to belong to a union in general. 

It was an amazing and inspiring experience to stand at the capitol building in Olympia a week ago with workers from many different unions. There were firefighters, police officers, teachers, health care workers, pipefitters, and many others. We were all of like mind – our unions level the playing field. Without that leverage, our workload, our compensation and the time we spend working would all increase. These rights have been hard fought in the history of labor unions. These rights have been won through perseverance, through belief and commitment.

It has been demoralizing, at the very least, to become the scapegoat for all the ills of society in these past few years. It’s hard to believe it is teachers receiving such anger! All of a sudden, while standing with my union sisters and brothers, I felt that demoralizing cloud lift. Standing up for our rights – that’s what lifts that feeling of immobilization, of hopelessness, of sadness. Standing up for our rights – that’s what inspires me to go on working for what I know is right.

We felt it during the strike here in Kent: That feeling of being a team, of working together for something we knew was good. Standing together gives us the leverage we need to work for better conditions, for ourselves and our students. We still have much ground to make up. For many years in our district, there has been decision making without the teacher input that is needed for a workload that is reasonable, for the time needed to perform our tasks adequately and collaborate with each other, and for compensation that is respectful and competitive with other surrounding districts.

We need the human right to stand together in strength and hope; to stand together with strong belief that we are for children and their futures. We need the human right to stand together because our students need educators who negotiate contracts with them in mind.

Excuse me Mr. Reichert…

March 6, 2011

This letter came to me from a teacher who made a statement to one of our local politicians and his support for a bill that cuts funding for PBS.

Mr Reichert:

 As a high school science teacher at a non-traditional high school in Kent, my greatest battle is getting kids interested in science, a subject many see as low on their list of priorities.  These kids are one step away from leaving the school system and becoming dropouts.  I ask them if they want to be rich, or more famous than Bill Gates.  They are barely moved.  I ask them if they would like to cure some disease causing suffering in a loved one; that stirs them some.

 One of the tools I regularly employ in the classroom is engaging video on the latest research being performed in labs around the country, some of them right here in our area.  Through these detailed looks into cutting edge science, I have sparked interest in more than a few students.  Using these videos, I have managed to get students to attend symposiums  held at the University of Washington, as well as summer experiences in the UW Biology labs.  These videos are produced by NOVA, a part of the Public Broadcasting System.  If PBS funding is cut in the next budget, where will the money come from to provide the topflight, cutting-edge video that they produce?  It is the process that PBS has in place which selects, supports, and enriches all of us.  It is the “Big Hammer” that I can use in my classroom that works to interest kids who already have way more on their minds than you and I did when we grew up.

 PBS is important.  This is the time to think of front-loading some dollars to help make a difference in the near future.  I’m sure that each of us has used programs that may not have had an immediate payoff, but you knew that down the line that investment of time or money would help save money, improve student responses, or maybe even save lives.  As a science teacher in this very high-needs school, that is how I see NOVA and PBS. 

 I encourage everyone to support the kids in classrooms everywhere by supporting public funding of PBS.  Supporting PBS is supporting kids.

Thank you,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Another Science Guy